Malnutrition refers to deficiencies, excesses, or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients. The term malnutrition covers 2 broad groups of conditions. One is ‘under nutrition’—which includes stunting (low height for age), wasting (low weight for height), underweight (low weight for age) and micronutrient deficiencies or insufficiencies (a lack of important vitamins and minerals). The other is overweight, obesity, and diet-related non-communicable diseases (such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer).

Causes of Malnutrition

Malnutrition in developed countries is unfortunately still more common in situations of poverty, social isolation and substance misuse. However, most adult malnutrition is associated with disease and may arise due to:

  • reduced dietary intake
  • reduced absorption of macro- and/or micronutrients
  • increased losses or altered requirements
  • Increased energy expenditure (in specific disease processes).

Consequences Of Malnutrition

Malnutrition affects the functions and recovery of every organ system.

It leads to :

  • Weight loss due to depletion of fat and muscle mass, including organ mass, is often the most obvious sign of malnutrition.
  • Reduction in cardiac muscle mass is recognised in malnourished individuals. The resulting decrease in cardiac output has a corresponding impact on renal function by reducing renal perfusion and glomerular filtration rate.
  • Adequate nutrition is important for preserving GI function: chronic malnutrition results in changes in pancreatic exocrine function, intestinal blood flow, villous architecture and intestinal permeability. 
  • Immune function is also affected, increasing the risk of infection due to impaired cell-mediated immunity and cytokine, complement and phagocyte function. 
  • In addition to these physical consequences, malnutrition also results in psychosocial effects such as apathy, depression, anxiety and self-neglect.

Malnutrition continues to be a major public health problem throughout the developing world, particularly in southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

The high prevalence of bacterial and parasitic diseases in developing countries contributes greatly to malnutrition there.
Similarly, malnutrition increases one’s susceptibility to and severity of infections and is thus a major component of illness and death from disease.

 Malnutrition is consequently the most important risk factor for the burden of disease in developing countries. It is the direct cause of about 300 000 deaths per year and is indirectly responsible for about half of all deaths in young children  The risk of death is directly correlated with the degree of malnutrition. Read More